- The Washington Times - Friday, October 18, 2002

Senators gave up on trying to pass a homeland security bill yesterday after last-gasp attempts from each side failed to break a six-week impasse.

That means the legislation is moribund for at least another month. The senators went home for their campaign recess yesterday but left the door open to returning before the elections if agreements can be worked out on other matters.

Still, senators said homeland security is off the plate for now and blamed each other for failing to pass a bill.

"I think there are many on the Republican side who simply oppose the creation of a Department of Homeland Security," said Sen. Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, who said Republicans initially opposed all attempts to create a department and now are pushing an "ultraconservative" plan to bust unions.

Republicans, meanwhile, accused Mr. Daschle of ducking the vote until after the Nov. 5 election to avoid having vulnerable Democrats cast politically difficult votes. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, expressed dismay that 14 months after the September 11 attacks, reports say al Qaeda has reorganized itself while the American government has not.

"I guess the difference is al Qaeda doesn't have a Senate. Al Qaeda doesn't have a Senator Daschle who has another focus," he said at a news conference yesterday morning with Republican House and Senate leaders and Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security.

The bill took many dips and turns before ending up in yesterday's morass.

After months of resisting Democrats' calls for a Cabinet-level office, President Bush did an about-face in June and presented his own plan for a Department of Homeland Security. The legislation consolidates dozens of existing federal agencies in the new department, which would have budget authority of nearly $40 billion a year.

The House passed its bill 295-132 in July. The Senate did not take up the bill until the beginning of August, right before the monthlong summer recess, and then returned to the legislation after Labor Day. Since then, except for a few tangential amendments that passed, there has been no action on the bill.

The Republican plan, backed by Mr. Bush, would give the president flexibility to hire and fire workers in the new department and to suspend collective-bargaining rights if he deems those rights in conflict with national security.

Mr. Daschle, though, said the bill is was written to further "a pre-existing ideological agenda." He and other Democrats want to give workers an appeal process before collective bargaining can be withdrawn.

Republicans are a vote shy of being able to pass the president's proposal, since they have one Democratic ally but have lost the support of one Republican. But they also say Democrats don't have the votes to pass their own plan, and Mr. Bush has promised to veto the plan if it reaches his desk.

The chamber hasn't even come close to that point, though, since the past four weeks have been spent in stalemate over how to proceed.

Republicans, who have blocked five attempts to end debate, say the voting order and debate rules proposed by Mr. Daschle are unfair because they would allow Democrats to, at first, appease voters by voting for the president's plan, then turn around and eviscerate it in the next vote to please labor unions, and ultimately pull the bill so they never have a final vote.

Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who has become the Republicans' point man on homeland security, said Democrats' voting plan would let them "be on three sides of a two-sided issue."


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